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Surviving Sandy

Mothering 21.com doesn’t usually deal with natural disaster but to do so this week would be ignoring the elephant in the room.  Let’s hope we never have to again.

Last Monday night as Sandy began her assault, my husband, daughter and I gathered in our suburban Long Island living room by the gas fireplace. We watched out the window as a towering maple tree swayed on our neighbor’s property.  Seconds later it came crashing down, narrowly missing both our house and the neighbor’s. That crash was followed by another tree toppling down on the neighbor’s lawn on the other side, pulling down a large transformer that sent flames shooting.  Sandy had just gone from media hype to all-too-close reality.

Those flames made it appear like a neighbor’s house across the street was on fire. My husband and two other neighbors went dashing out in the storm to bang on the door of the house where plumes of smoke were rising in the back, knowing that a young mom and her two small children were alone while her husband was at work.  The mom and her two boys made a mad dash to another house.  (Fortunately the wet leaves doused the flames before they had a chance to gather force.)

Now, really unnerved, I tried calling my two sons but couldn’t get service, bringing back eerie memories of the last time that happened, the morning of 9/11.

Then a text came though from NYU’s emergency system: the downtown dorms, many of which are high-rises, were without power.  Thousands of students were told to remain in their rooms.  Very few, I assumed, had flashlights, and candles are banned from the dorms. I empathized with the fears of hundreds of parents unable to contact their college students stranded in dark dorms.

When daylight broke on Tuesday, the devastation was apparent.  People walked around, slightly dazed, looking at the destruction and sharing stories.  One neighbor looked particularly grim: his daughter had evacuated on Monday to his house with her husband and two small boys.  The young couple had just returned from inspecting the damage to their home near a canal a few towns away. Destroyed.  They had just finished thousands of dollars of repair to the house from Hurricane Irene last year; now they had to start again.

I overheard a man in the local library where I went for power and Internet tell a friend, “I’m alive but that’s about it.  Everything else is gone.” Another woman told of floodwaters coming up as never before on a block where she lived for decades and the water ruining dozens of parked cars.

The week wore on and the damage assessed, friends and family came out to help, in particular on intergenerational lines. On my block alone, half dozen families were either helping their adult children cope or vice versa. That young couple who lost their house is now living with her parents for the foreseeable future, and the 60-something grandma is off with the two boys in a double stroller several times a day to keep them occupied while the parents makes plans for another round of repairs. The neighbors next door are sheltering their adult daughter, her husband, two small children and a baby born last Thursday.  Another 60-something couple, still without power a week later, is living with her daughter in an adjoining town.  The family ties become stronger during times of crisis…and helpful.  My daughter waited yesterday for three hours on a gas line, patrolled by police officers, to fill up the family car.

And we were lucky.  The town south of us was severely impacted.  Thousands of people have been told that it can up to two weeks before electric power is restored. They too are lucky. Hundreds of others don’t have homes to go back to. That’s where family comes in.  A friend opened her house to her niece and her five children under the age of 10.  The empty nest is going to be quite full for some time.  Another neighbor took in relatives from Long Beach, where the ocean met the bay, destroying everything in its path.  It will be a long time before that family can repair their home.  “It could be months,” said the neighbor. “But it’s family.  That’s what you do.”

This week we also offer a video.

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